Brasada Ranch follows green-building craze

Resort plans to continue energy-efficient development

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 30. 2007 5:00AM PST

POWELL BUTTE – With its red paint and wide beams, the sales building at Crook County destination resort Brasada Ranch looks like a carefully renovated, decades-old barn.

“We had some of the locals come along and say, ‘Wow, you guys did a great job restoring that barn,'” said Rick Pare, construction coordinator for Brasada Ranch.

“That’s a pretty good compliment.”

Pare, who is the leader of the “green team” for construction at the resort, said the “barn” was built from the ground up in 2005 with an eye toward eco-friendly features.

Fifty percent of the wood used in construction, including the vaulted ceiling beams, was reclaimed from the old Ochoco Lumber Co. mill, and it achieved gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building standards.

As energy- and water-efficient houses built with local materials become increasingly common in new subdivisions, the incoming destination resorts in Crook County are also catching on to the trend.

And the Crook County Planning Department is encouraging applicants to incorporate more eco-friendly features into their developments.

Brasada Ranch was the first destination resort approved for Crook County, and it has plans for 600 single-family houses and 300 overnight rental units on its roughly 1,800-acre site.

At Brasada Ranch, Pare said, green building is motivated by a philosophy to “walk softly in the land.”

All of the heating and cooling in the main buildings comes through a looped tube system in small nearby lakes, which means that it costs about one-quarter to one-third of a conventional structure’s energy bill to run the building. The swimming pools will be entirely heated by solar panels.

Pare added that the resort’s designers have tried to be sensitive to the natural landscape. The golf course lies in existing ravines, and the builders are replanting native brush grass and sagebrush in areas that had to be cleared for construction.

“You can see where we didn’t disturb down below and where we have re-established up here,” Pare said, pointing to a patch of earth dotted with small plantings that border larger sagebrushes and shrubs. “Within a year or so, it will all look like one again.”

In addition to its main buildings, the rental cabins at Brasada Ranch are all Energy Star and Earth Advantage certified, meaning that the appliances and houses are energy efficient. The private residences are also required to meet those standards.

The high environmental benchmarks are attractive to buyers, Pare said.

“There’s people that have come here just because of this,” he said. “Green-building practice in this industry is like springtime – (it’s) blooming right now.”

Chris Pippin, the project manager for Remington Ranch, a recently approved destination resort in Powell Butte, said the developers’ specific design plans have not been set, but they are “trying to be respectful of the native habitat and the natural vegetation.”

Pippin said it seems that environmental building practices are increasingly common in the industry.

“I know it’s a growing issue in residential development around the country and maybe even more so in the home construction business,” he said. “That’s something that’s been a hot thing.”

Remington Ranch could eventually include 800 houses and 400 rental units.

IronHorse, a mixed-use subdivision planned for Prineville, is not a destination resort, but it is of a similarly large scale. The developers’ plans call for more than 2,900 housing units on 1,100 acres.

Project Manager Randy Jones said that IronHorse will require all homeowners to follow the Earth Advantage Program, making homes well insulated and energy efficient. They will also install WeatherTRAK technology, which conserves water that would be used for irrigation. Jones said that the WeatherTRAK system would initially cost about $350 – versus $60 to $70 for a traditional sprinkler timer – but the owners would make the money back within one to two years.

“The vast majority of buyers in the country these days really do desire, if they can afford it, to buy green (and) to have their energy-efficient and conservation-oriented homes,” Jones said. “So the trick is to provide value to these home buyers and, again, this is not expensive technology.”

He added that the WeatherTRAK system could save more than 130 million gallons of water a year from IronHorse.

Although Crook County does not have specific environmental requirements for new developments, Planning Director Bill Zelenka said such features could make the applications more attractive to the county, especially with destination resorts.

For example, he noted that the Planning Commission worked with Brasada Ranch to establish guidelines about nonreflective windows and low-scale lights that would make the project less intrusive.

“I think it’s a good selling feature, not only when they’re marketing it, but it’s probably a selling feature to the various agencies,” Zelenka said. “So, if they need to get sign offs like from (Oregon Department of) Fish and Wildlife or from (Bureau of Land Management) or other people like that, it’s smart to just initiate some of that stuff upfront.”

While the lowered cost of upfront investment and attractiveness to home buyers makes green building more practical, Pare said his “passion” for the topic is based on principle.

“Bottom line, very simple, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.


Aquatic center a big issue in Crook parks and rec board race

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 29. 2007 5:00AM PST

At the same time voters are deciding whether to build a new aquatic center in Prineville, they will select the members of the board that would oversee the project and other parks and recreation activities.

Four out of the five positions on the Crook County Parks and Recreation District’s Board of Directors are up for a vote in the May election, but only one of the races is contested.

Charles Poarch, Larry W. Smith and Debbie L. Smith – who are not related – are running for the board’s Position 4, which Larry Smith currently occupies. Cindy Hurt, Donna White and current board member Jerry Coale are also running uncontested for three other positions.

Except for Coale, who is running for a two-year unexpired term, all the candidates would serve for four years. Roughly 8,000 voters in the Parks and Recreation District vote on the board members.

The Parks and Recreation board heads a district that is trying to maintain facilities while providing new amenities for a growing community.

In the past few years, the district has increased its system development charges to keep pace with growth and created a 20-year plan to shore up existing programs and facilities and determine how to expand.

But it has also unsuccessfully tried to build a new swim center and expand its boundaries to include Powell Butte and Juniper Canyon.

Jerry Coale

After two years on the Parks and Recreation District Board, Coale said he wants to continue working on items like creating new parks and improving existing ones.

Coale was appointed to fill a vacant position on the board in 2005 after competing unsuccessfully for a seat.

Now he is running unopposed to serve out the term’s remaining two years.

“I’m just getting to know the parks and rec process and all the work that needs to be done,” he said. “There are a lot of projects on the table that still need a lot of work and are still interesting to me, and I want to continue that work.”

Although the board was not successful with two recent ballot measures — one to annex areas into the district and another to construct a new aquatic center in Prineville — Coale said work is moving forward on several parks around the city.

“We are making progress on some fronts, (but) we’ve had some failures on other fronts,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on — more than just the swimming pool — we’ve got trails and other parks to deal with and sports fields.”

Coale, who moved to Prineville from California in 2000 after retiring from IBM, said he enjoys being a part of the community.

“Unfortunately, a lot of board members don’t attend meetings and don’t get involved, and I’ve been very involved,” he said. “We moved here looking for a good, stable family oriented community.”

Larry Smith

Although he has already served nine years on the Parks and Recreation District Board, Smith said he tries to approach each topic with an open mind.

Smith was appointed to the board in 1998, elected for a first term in 1999 and re-elected in 2003. He is running for re-election this year against Poarch and Debbie Smith.

“I think I really come to the board with no agenda,” he said. “I don’t take any of the decisions that we have to make personally — I really look at them as to what benefits the taxpayers (and) the voters.”

The most immediate issue facing the district right now is the need for a new aquatic center to replace the 54-year-old outdoor pool, he said. He added the population growth occurring in Prineville creates new challenges and needs for recreation in the area.

“Because of the rapid growth that we’re experiencing in our community — and really it’s the residential growth that I’m referring to — I would like to see a strong trail system develop to tie into our existing trail system and then also tie into these newer residential areas,” he said.

Smith, who works at Les Schwab Tire Companies, said that he considers serving on the Parks and Recreation board as a civic commitment.”I think it’s important for individuals to volunteer for whatever is needed within their community,” he said. “I had a daughter (who is now an adult) that used the park system, we still use it as a family, so I enjoy the benefits of the parks also.”

Charles Poarch

After attending every Parks and Recreation board meeting for more than a year, Poarch said he decided to run for what he thought would be an open seat.

“I decided if you’re going to have anything to say about it, you’re going to have to run for it,” he said.

Now Poarch has two opponents in the race for the board’s Position 4 seat.

Poarch said he thinks the board should not have put the measures to build and operate a new aquatic center back on the May ballot after a defeat in November. He would oppose asking voters again to approve a three-pool center if it does not pass this time.

“The goals that I would apply would be to pay for what you get, not look for things which would be good 20 years from now,” he said. “You can’t keep floating bond issues and that because sooner or later you’re going to run out of money.”

Poarch said he has “not directly” done any campaigning, but he has been talking to people in the community.

“I’ve put out my credentials and that I would attend all the meetings,” he said, noting that he has often noticed members skipping board meetings since he began attending.

He added that he has “years and years of experience” on various boards in Prineville and Crook County. He is a former member of the both the city and county planning commissions, he said.

“Since I arrived in Crook County in the late ’70s (after serving in the military), I have volunteered for various boards at least 90 percent of the time,” he said.

Debbie Smith

Working with members of the Parks and Recreation District Board and encouraging voters to approve a new aquatic center for the last two years convinced Smith to run for a seat on the board.

“I got to see actually how much the parks really do for our community,” she said. “When you look at their programs they put on, from trail walking to painting classes to karate classes, there is just so much there, and if we didn’t have our park and rec district there would be very little to do in this community.”

A lifelong Prineville resident, Smith — who is not related to the other candidate for the seat, Larry Smith, but is married to a different Larry Smith — has been a member of many different community organizations.

Smith and her husband own ABC Fence Company in Prineville, and she said her daily interaction with residents of the community would be an asset on the board.

“I’m out with the public a lot in my business and I’m always talking to people, and when somebody mentions something to me, I feel like I could take it back to the board and kind of voice their opinion or ideas,” she said.

In addition to seeing the pool bonds pass, Smith said she would like to increase the number of programs the district offers for residents.

“Anything that can come to Prineville that gives us some kind of entertainment is going to be a plus for the community,” she said.

Donna White

For the last two and a half years, White has been one of the most active supporters for replacing Prineville’s outdoor pool with a three-pool aquatic center.

Now she is running unopposed for a seat on the board of the Crook County Parks and Recreation District Board, which would run the pool if voters pass measures to build and operate it in the May election.

As a board member, she said, she would hope to take a less vocal role for her first year or so.

“I’m hoping to just kind of sit back and learn a lot the first year,” she said. “I think there’s an awful lot to learn.”

With the growth in the area and projects on the table for the board — like new sports fields near the Crook County Fairgrounds and a pavilion in Pioneer Park — White said she thinks it’s a good time to get involved.

“There’s just a lot of growth, a lot of things going on, so I think it’s going to be a very fun and exciting time to be a part of the parks board,” she said.

After attending many parks district meetings, White said, she would be a dedicated board member and attend as many meetings as possible.

“I have a lot of interest in my community and I have been very active on a number of committees,” she said. “I see a need, definitely, and I hope I’m the one that kind of rounds out the board.”

Voter turnout plagues Crook’s off-year elections

County pool bond must get majority of voters to be approved

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 26. 2007 5:00AM PST

After a frustrating loss by a razor-thin margin in November’s election, the supporters of a new swim center in Prineville reworked their plans and decided to go out for another bond on the upcoming May ballot.

But in the spring election, the measures to build and operate a new pool facility face an additional hurdle: The difficulty of obtaining a double majority in off-year elections.

A provision of the Oregon Constitution requires property-tax measures to both garner more than 50 percent approval and more than 50 percent voter turnout in order to pass. That means that a majority of the registered voters in the Crook County Parks and Recreation District would have to cast their ballots in order for the pool bonds to have a chance.

Trying to get a property tax measure passed under the double-majority rule in an off-year election is an uphill battle in many counties because the elections often do not attract enough voter interest.

Since a state ballot initiative passed in 1996 adding the double-majority rule to the state Constitution, Crook County has almost never seen more than 50 percent voter turnout in off-year elections, County Clerk Dee Berman said.

“I would be surprised if we got a 50 percent turnout (this year),” Berman said.

History of low turnout

The highest voter turnout in a spring off-year election for Crook County overall was in 1999, when 39 percent of registered voters cast ballots. However, an initiative in 1999 concerning the fire district’s tax rate did pass, because just more than 50 percent of the registered voters in the fire district participated.

“If you’re just looking at the people within the fire district, that isn’t a countywide measure, and this (pool) one isn’t either,” Berman said, pointing out that only the 8,000 registered voters in the county’s Park and Recreation District will vote on the swim center bonds. “It’s got to be a double majority of the people that live within that district.”

Berman said there have only been two or three times when a ballot measure in an off-year election achieved a double majority.

Unlike even-year elections, which feature statewide and national races or primaries, off-year spring elections do not traditionally generate as much excitement about voting. Last November’s election, which included decisions on Oregon’s governor and U.S. representatives, saw a 75 percent voter turnout, Berman said.

Crook County is not unique in its generally low voter turnout in off-year spring elections. In the May 2005 election, only 23 percent of Deschutes County’s registered voters cast ballots, according to the Deschutes County Clerk’s Office Web site.

But Deschutes County has achieved more than 50 percent voter turnout in other past spring elections. In May 2001, 56 percent of voters took part in an election that included a Sheriff’s Office levy and a Sisters school bond, according to the Web site. Special off-year elections in March and November have also had more than 50 percent voter turnout in Deschutes County.

For the May election this year, the proposed 911 levy in Deschutes County falls under the double-majority rule.

Jefferson County has not achieved 50 percent voter turnout in an off-year spring election since the double-majority rule has been in place, County Clerk Kathy Marston said. But there have been few years when there were ballot measures that fell under the requirement.

In May 2005, Marston said, the county’s voting rate was 46 percent. That year’s property tax measure, an operating levy for the county jail, failed due to the insufficient voter turnout, even though more than 50 percent of those casting votes were in favor of the measure, according to earlier Bulletin reports.

“Usually the spring election, the May election, is what we call the special district election where the board members for various districts are elected, and oftentimes those positions are not contested,” Marston said. “So a lot of people just simply don’t vote and return their ballot.”

Back on the ballot

Donna White, the chairwoman of the political action committee supporting the pool measures, said the double-majority requirement was a serious consideration when the Parks and Recreation District was deciding whether to try for a bond again.

“We understand that our odds of having 51 percent of the voters turn out aren’t the best,” White said. “The community’s going to have to feel pretty strong about it to make it pass, so I just have faith that a lot of people that didn’t vote (last time) because they just assumed that it would pass are going to get out and vote this time.”

The district’s plans call for a $10.7 million swim center with two indoor pools and one outdoor pool.

In 2006, the measure to build a new pool center failed by a margin of 2,936 “no” votes to 2,774 “yes,” according to the Crook County Clerk’s Office Web site. The first time the question was on the ballot, in 2002, the construction bond failed by 3,452 to 1,647 votes.

One difference with both of the previous elections is that now the measures are not tied together, so that if one fails the other could still pass. The total tax rate of the measures has also been reduced since last November by about 10 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value.

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said that, even though he would “be pleasantly surprised” if this election sees more than 50 percent turnout, there are good reasons for the pool supporters to put the measures back on the ballot.

“It keeps your profile up – that’s important,” he said. “Let’s assume that it passes but it doesn’t get the majority (voter turnout), then it allows the supporters to go forward in the November election and say, ‘A majority of those who voted said it was a good idea.'”

Exercising voting rights

Cooper said that he thinks the double-majority rule works as it was supposed to – “it keeps taxes down” – and he would oppose efforts to repeal it. Earlier this month, the Oregon House voted to remove the requirement in May and November elections, but the Senate has not taken up the question and the change would ultimately have to be approved by voters.

“I think it gives you political security that when a decision does get made it definitely reflected something that most people could live with,” Cooper said. “For community boosters and people with really good concepts, it can be very disappointing and frustrating.”

Oregon’s voter turnout is generally high compared to other states, Cooper noted, but he called achieving a double majority in a May election a “pipe dream.”

“It’s just unfortunate that people don’t take voting very seriously,” he said. “And usually (in a spring election) the candidates are unknown, the measures are confusing, so there’s just not a lot of enthusiasm for finishing the process and marking the ballot.”

White, the pool PAC chairwoman, said she hopes people will exercise their constitutional right to vote.

“They don’t even have to turn out – they just have to fill in a mailed-out ballot,” White said. “You’re an American, you have the right to vote – use it. Don’t complain about your kids having nothing to do, use your right to vote.”

Crook aquatic center to be on ballot for 3rd time

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 26. 2007 5:00AM PST

As the Crook County Parks and Recreation District works on short-term fixes for its 54-year-old swimming pool, voters will be deciding whether to fund a replacement aquatic center for Prineville.

Two measures on the May ballot would build and operate a $10.7 million, three-pool swim center in downtown Prineville. This is the third time the question has appeared before voters, as similar proposals failed in 2002 and 2006.

Donna White, the chairwoman of Volunteers in Action, the political action committee supporting the measures, said the group decided to go back out for the bonds to keep “momentum going.”

“Many people approached all the Volunteers in Action and said they just couldn’t believe it – it missed by a very slim margin,” White said. “We wanted to see if maybe we went right back out there to the voters right away that maybe it would pass this time.”

In November’s election, the construction bond for the pool failed by about 150 votes out of 5,700. On the 2002 ballot, the construction measure went down by more than a two-to-one margin.

The double-majority rule poses a challenge for supporters in the May election. The requirement says that property-tax ballot measures have to both earn more than 50 percent approval and more than 50 percent voter turnout. Crook County historically has seen low voter turnout rates in off-year spring elections, according to the Clerk’s Office.

Only the roughly 8,000 voters in the Parks and Recreation District will vote on the bonds.

In the past, some voters said the plans – which now include an indoor therapy pool and lap pool as well as an outdoor pool – were too costly and elaborate. After the last election, members of Volunteers in Action decided to eliminate a multipurpose room from the center, dropping the cost by $1.3 million.

The tax rate for the bond to construct the new center is now 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable assessed value, and the rate for the five-year operations levy is 37 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. If both measures pass, a person with a house assessed at $200,000 will pay $198 for both taxes combined. Crook County Chief Appraiser Brian Huber said the average assessed value of a residential property in Crook County is about $109,000.

But unlike in the previous two elections, the measures are no longer tied together, so that if one fails the other could still pass.

Since the last election, White said her group has been trying to address worries about the plans and how the levies would work. Some residents have expressed concerns about displacing the baseball diamond in Davidson Field on Court Street, the proposed site for the new aquatic center.

“There are people that are concerned that they’re losing a little piece of history,” White said. “We’re going to have a wall of honor within the swimming facility to honor the history of Davidson Park.”

She added that the Parks and Recreation District is planning a new baseball facility near the Crook County Fairgrounds.

White said the Volunteers in Action have raised about $140,000 in pledges toward the operations of the swim center.

Right now, the Parks and Recreation District is planning to open the current outdoor pool this summer, with opening day scheduled for June 14. But there are a few major issues facing the pool, like leaking and water backwash, that would cost $100,000 to fix. The Parks and Recreation District Board recently said it will not budget extra money to fix the pool for the next fiscal year, Business Manager Jeannie Searcy said.

The current pool costs about $50,000 a year to operate and is only open in the summer, Searcy said. A feasibility study for the new swim center put the annual operating cost at $500,000 to $600,000, which would be covered by the levy, pledges and user fees.

“We’re just bandaging it together and keeping our fingers crossed,” Searcy said. “Our plan is at least one more year.”

Prineville sets goals for development

City’s new comprehensive plan emphasizes mixed-use projects

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 24. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The ideal neighborhood in the Prineville of the future should have homes, shops, parks, schools and jobs within walking distance, preserving the city’s “small-town feel” even as it continues to grow in population.

That’s according to Prineville’s new comprehensive plan, which the City Council gave final approval to at its last meeting. Prine-ville, which has operated under Crook County’s comprehensive plan since the late 1970s, had been one of the few incorporated cities in Oregon without its own planning guide.

County and city planners have spent more than a year laboring over the 150-page comprehensive plan for Prineville, which will provide a rubric for development in the city. But the adoption of the plan also has repercussions for the average citizen, home builder or developer in the community, officials said.

Deborah McMahon, Prineville’s interim planning director, said the goal of the comprehensive plan is to reflect the wishes of current residents about how the city should grow in the future.

Now that it has its own plan, Prineville officials will be able to focus on the growth needs of a city rather than the more rural county.

“City planning primarily relates to the urban environment and accommodating growth and making sure that we have urban uses within the urban growth boundary,” McMahon said. “That’s the primary difference between cities and counties, is that urban development is supposed to occur within the UGB.”

To that end, the plan – which applies to the entire UGB area – encourages residential, commercial and industrial development, but sets out goals and values to guide the growth. They include general ideas like creating “residential zones that include amenities promoting family living environments and safe places for children to play (and) walk to school,” as well as more specific policies, like “Neighborhood lots shall be designed to be within 1,200 feet of open spaces, parks or other recreational areas.”

Unlike the county’s plan, the city’s is a “policy document” that mainly includes guidelines about development rather than specific planning regulations. The goals and programs enumerated in the plan will be implemented in the future through Prineville’s zoning ordinances.

“It’s an updated expression of the community’s values,” McMahon said. “What we do with those values is create policies, guidelines and programs so that we can implement in our regulations the kinds of things that the community has said that they want to see.”

For example, a statement in the comprehensive plan that “neighborhoods shall contain employment/shopping/service opportunities located in areas that can be served by transit and easily accessed by residents in the neighborhood” could be codified in new zoning regulations. The planning commission and City Council might also require certain features to be present in the master plans for new subdivisions.

And for larger-scale objectives, like statements encouraging commercial projects with businesses on the ground floor and housing on upper floors, the City Council could provide incentives to businesses to build those kinds of structures. The plan provides guidelines for the council and planning commission in reviewing proposed developments.

Pedestrian accessibility and safety in the downtown area, as well as alternate forms of transportation, also form an important goal. One section of the plan requires commercial and industrial areas to provide “adequate off-street parking for bicycles.”

The mixed-use model

Now that the council has approved the plan, McMahon said, city staff will begin writing the specific regulations that will enforce the goals laid out in the comprehensive plan. The city solicited residents’ input on the plan through community workshops, surveys, pamphlets and Prineville’s Web site, according to the text of the plan.

Because of that feedback, McMahon said, the document should reassure Prineville residents that the city will continue to grow in a way that maintains its historical identity.

“I think the most important thing is that their expressed values are going to part of decision making in the future so that we can avoid sprawl and we can avoid the negative effects of growth that people have clearly said they want to make sure are minimized as the community grows,” she said.

But many parts of the comprehensive plan would seem to apply more to developers than to individual homeowners. For example, a section on residential neighborhoods includes the requirement that a master plan be developed “for all parcels and sites over 5 acres in size” and includes the recommendation that the city “provide incentive programs when at all possible to encourage affordable housing in new neighborhood development.”

The plans for IronHorse, a mixed-use subdivision currently under construction in Prineville, fit into the model of “complete communities” promoted in Prineville’s comprehensive plan. Randy Jones, the project manager for IronHorse, said the development already has been approved, so the new plan will not affect it. IronHorse could eventually add about 2,900 homes over 15 to 20 years.

“I think IronHorse probably complements the comprehensive plan,” he said. “(The plan) could possibly, I suppose, represent a challenge to those in the future that would want to propose more conventional subdivisions.”

Jones attended the City Council meetings and workshops dealing with the plan, and said he has read all of the document. He added that he does not think most builders or developers are familiar with their community’s comprehensive plans.

“I think most, let’s say, building contractors probably never read it,” he said. “But it is a very important municipal policy document – it guides ordinances, it guides direction, it guides tenor of discussion, (and) it can direct design. The good ones are the ones that actually get read and actually get recognition and incorporated into (development).”

In the past, city planners have cited the community controversy over IronHorse’s potential building on Barnes Butte, a natural landmark in the city, as one instance when it would have been helpful for Prineville to have its own comprehensive plan. If a plan had been in place, the city might have decided to prohibit or restrict development on the butte.

A ‘dynamic document’

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said he thinks “95 percent of residents, voters and taxpayers have no clue what a comp plan is, and a certain number of elected officials have no idea what a comp plan is.”

Now that the City Council will have the authority over planning, rather than consulting with the County Court on comprehensive plan issues, Cooper said, the two municipalities could take divergent paths in dealing with growth. The state goals that local plans have to conform with emphasize preservation for counties, “whereas the cities tend to be very growth-oriented and development-oriented.”

“The City Council now gets to be the final say on how growth is going to occur and how much growth is going to occur in years to come,” he said. “Unfortunately, county residents are impacted by city decisions, and they don’t have any electoral say on who sits on the City Council, so county residents are going to need to pay attention to what the City Council is doing.”

Cooper added that one of the problems with comprehensive plans is that they can quickly become out of date. The text of the plan says that it is a “dynamic document” that can be amended in the future, but the state Land Conservation and Development Commission has to approve all changes. After the Crook County Court reviews the plan at its next meeting, it will then be forwarded to LCDC for authorization.

“(A comprehensive plan) doesn’t have any impact on you until houses start showing up in the field next door that you always assumed would be a field, and that’s when you discover that there is such a thing as a comp plan, and that’s when you wish you had paid more attention,” Cooper said. “They are not very interesting and, you know, to some degree they’re not very relevant, especially as they age.”

Cooper said that several parts of the county’s plan are out of date. But McMahon said she thinks the city’s plan should avoid those problems because it offers general goals, and the City Council can easily change the specific ordinances concerning development.

“I think the most common theme of the comprehensive plan is that our citizens have clearly expressed they want to maintain an enhanced small-town livability, and that the values they hold dearest include having quality neighborhoods and reducing the negative effects of growth,” she said.

High Desert teems with fossils

Area’s fertile ground has recently yielded important relics from the dinosaur age

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 22. 2007 5:00AM PST

MITCHELL – Digging her toes into the steep, slippery side of a sagebrush- and wildflower-covered hill, Ellen Morris Bishop peered at a stream of loose rocks.

Picking up a yellowish, dictionary-sized rock, she displayed the streaky imprint of a 40-million-year-old plant.

“Now here we have a fossil that you can actually see,” Bishop said, identifying it as a relative of the horsetail rush. “Isn’t that cool? If you’re looking for fossils, you don’t have to show up and start hammering away at things – if you just spend some time looking at the outcrops, you can find things like this.”

Bishop, a geologist and director of the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute in Fossil, said the spot northwest of Mitchell along the banks of Cherry Creek in Jefferson County is a former marshland that now has many plant fossils.

A few miles away, where red-brown cliffs surge from the John Day River, the area’s transition over hundreds of millions of years from a marine environment to a tropical volcanic zone to today’s desert is perceptible in the landscape’s colored stripes of rocks. For scientists and amateur paleontologists, that diverse geologic history makes Central and Eastern Oregon an important site, where the most recent major find was a Jurassic-age crocodile in eastern Crook County.

Andrew Bland was visiting the county in late 2005 with the North America Research Group, a fossil enthusiasts’ group based in Beaverton, when he noticed some bone fragments poking out of the ground.

“We knew that other marine vertebrate fossils had been found in that area, so it’s something we keep an eye open (for) but never expect to find,” said Bland, who was the first to spot the Jurassic crocodile while looking for marine mollusks called ammonites.

“Initially I was excited that I had found some bone material … and luckily only a few feet up from where I found the initial material I saw some more bone sticking out.”

Bland is an amateur paleontologist who usually takes a trip a month with his group to look for fossils.

“It’s not like I imagined as a kid when you find fossils that you, like, split a rock open and there it is,” Bland said. “Over the next six months, I spent probably over 100 hours working under a microscope chipping away at the limestone to expose all the bone material.” From the rocky formations of Central Oregon’s High Desert, paleontologists, archaeologists and amateur fossil hunters have dug up prehistoric creatures like Bland’s Jurassic crocodile, a plesiosaur – a 25-foot-long marine reptile – and a pterosaur, a flying reptile with a 15-foot wingspan.

Amateur fossil collectors have made many of the most significant finds, which Bishop called “the coolest part about the plesiosaur and the crocodile.”

“Collecting fossils is a very Zen thing … you train your eye and you stay in a place for a very long time and, gradually, you begin to see little differences in the rocks,” she said. “If you find something that’s going to be a contribution to the knowledge of mankind, I think it’s part of your responsibility to help people understand what it is.”

The geology of the High Desert

The bands of volcanoes that blanketed Central Oregon with ash and lava between 40 and 50 million years ago left behind a rich swath of fossilized plant and animal remains, local scientists said.

“If you had to design something to preserve a fossil, there’s nothing better than volcanic ash – it’s like those Styrofoam popcorn things, it’s the perfect packing,” said William Orr, a retired geologist and director of the Thomas Condon State Museum of Fossils at the University of Oregon. “So the reason our fossil record is so good is because the volcanic record is complete.”

Many of the lava vents from those now-eroded volcanoes cooled into the jagged cliffs in areas of Jefferson and Wheeler counties. Orr described Central and Eastern Oregon – where the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located – as “real dinosaur country, but they haven’t found dinosaurs yet.”

Some bones from a pterosaur were found in Crook County in the late 1800s, Orr said. Like the pterosaur, he added, the plesiosaur and Jurassic crocodile date from the age of dinosaurs, which lasted from 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago.

Although the crocodile skeleton was discovered in 2005, the University of Oregon didn’t announce the find until last month.

“It’s not a dinosaur, but it coexisted within the water when the dinosaurs were bopping around on land,” he said, adding that only one possible dinosaur skeleton has been found in Oregon. “I always thought in my heart, well, they’re here, we just haven’t looked for them.”

And while Central and Eastern Oregon have not produced a dinosaur, Bishop said, “we do have dinosaur relatives – we have lots of fearsome and toothed creatures that lived mostly in the seas.”

Piecing together the puzzle

Even before the volcanoes, in the Cretaceous Era 100 million years ago, much of the state of Oregon was under water. Meat-eating reptiles such as plesiosaurs, which may have looked a lot like the mythical Loch Ness monster, roamed the ocean.

Today, fossils like the plesiosaur and Jurassic crocodile discovered in the Crook County area in 2004 and 2005, respectively, help scientists paint a picture of what life was like hundreds of millions of years ago, said John Zancanella, a geologist and the paleontology program coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon and Washington.

In both cases, hobbyists looking for fossilized sea shells found the bones and enlisted trained scientists to help with the analysis, Zancanella said. When amateur paleontologists, Mike Kelly and Greg Kovalchuk, found the remnants of the plesiosaur near Prineville in 2004, they contacted Zancanella.

“We find plesiosaurs in other parts of the country, but this was the first one found in the Northwest, so what it does is it adds another piece of the puzzle to our understanding of ancient times and ancient environments,” said Zancanella, who works in the BLM’s Prineville office. “The context is one of the most important things about any fossil that you find.”

The plesiosaur Kelly and Kovalchuk uncovered probably lived about 90 to 100 million years ago, and scientists think it had an alligator-like head with sharp teeth that it used to eat mostly fish.

The fossil, which included the teeth and 3-foot-long lower jaw of the animal, is now housed at the South Dakota Museum of Geo-logy.

“It had been 85 years since anyone had actually found a vertebrate specimen from this rock type,” Zancanella said. “So I was pretty excited about the find and very excited about the two individuals, who showed a lot of restraint and ethics and character to not rip this thing out of the ground.”

Unlike the plesiosaur, the thalattosuchia – or Jurassic-age crocodile – found in eastern Crook County in 2005 was not a native Oregonian.

The reptile probably lived in the tropical seas near south China about 150 to 180 million years ago, Orr said, and was about 6 to 8 feet long. It had a long, fishlike tail and needle teeth for eating fish and squid. When it died it became fossilized in the ocean floor and then drifted to North America through a process known as continental shift or plate tectonics.

“The stuff from, let’s say, 30 million years ago – that’s the John Day formation – that’s all local, that’s homegrown, but the older stuff … was all produced somewhere else and imported here and stuck on,” Orr said. “Crook County has this great diversity of fossils because some of it came from as far away as China.”

A Jurassic crocodile is also an important find because crocodiles’ basic physiological structure has not changed drastically even over such a long time period, Orr said. He is currently analyzing the fossil, which will be sent to the University of Iowa for further research and eventually displayed at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro.

“If we ever get to the bottom of what knocked off the dinosaurs, it will not be looking at dinosaurs because the dinosaurs were what I call the losers – it will be through looking at crocodiles or turtles,” he said. “One of those two creatures has the answer to one of the biggest crises in the history of life.”

‘An addictive hobby’

While the dramatic geology of Crook County and surrounding areas has led to some important finds for scientific research, it also offers smaller scale thrills for the amateur fossil hunter.

“I was probably interested in dinosaurs as a kid, but I really didn’t realize that even though Oregon doesn’t have dinosaurs, there’s some very exciting things that could be found by everyone,” said Bland, who found the Jurassic crocodile bones. “You could probably find a fossil in every county of Oregon, and for me as a kid that would have been great to have that information.”

He said that the four-year-old North America Research Group has about 60 members who take monthly trips to look for fossils in different parts of Oregon and Washington. A software quality engineer from Vancouver, Wash., Bland said fossil hunting is “just an addictive hobby I’ve picked up.”

Because Bland and the other members of the group found the bones on private property, they were able to remove them with the permission of the owner. He then worked with Orr, at the University of Oregon, and other scientists to identify the creature.

Usually, when the group goes fossil hunting, Bland said, they look for previously unknown species of invertebrates that may have scientific value. He described the crocodile as the most “sexy” fossil the group has found so far, but added that they have donated many others to Hillsboro’s Rice Museum.

“Most of Oregon throughout history, up until the end of the Cretaceous, was a marine environment and in a marine environment you get a lot of sedimentation, and that’s primarily where you find fossils,” he said. “In Central Oregon because it’s high desert, there’s a lot of exposure. You’re more apt to find fossils there than, say, in the Willamette Valley where you have a lot of vegetation and overgrowth.”

But, he added, people often “spend a lot of time looking and finding nothing.” He doesn’t have a particular method for finding fossils, other than reading up beforehand on the area’s geology and then trying to scout the ground as thoroughly as possible.

“If you’re in an area that’s fossiliferous, you usually either find them or you don’t,” he said. “They’re usually obvious, or you’re not finding anything.”

Judy Elkins, the owner of Elkins Gem Stones in Prineville, said she often directs tourists to interesting fossil areas in Crook County.

“People have a much better chance of finding something if they know what they’re looking for,” Elkins said.

Zancanella, of the BLM, said collecting fossils on private land is legal, as long as the owner is aware. On federal lands there are limits on the amount of invertebrate and botanical fossils people can collect, and removing vertebrates is not allowed.

“When you think about life on Earth generally, the invertebrates and the plants make up the bulk of life, so those fossils tend to be more common, and the vertebrates make up a very small percentage of life on Earth, so they tend to be more rare,” he said.

Educational tourism

In the aptly named town of Fossil, about two hours northeast of Prineville, the two-year-old Oregon Paleo Lands Institute is working to expose tourists and locals alike to Central Oregon’s unique geology.

Bishop, the institute’s director, described its mission as “educational tourism.” Programs often combine artistic activities with outdoor trips to learn about the environment.

“The idea is basically to connect people with the landscape, sort of past, present and future, and think about our impact on these landscapes and understand how to become stewards,” she said.

She added that the layers of rocks in Central and Eastern Oregon can help geologists understand more about past cycles of climate change and extinction.

“To me, the lessons of the past are something that, just like in human history we need to look back at the lessons we learned in the past and apply those to today. We also need to take the lessons we learned from past ecosystems and apply those to today,” she said.

Sites like the Painted Hills in Wheeler County demonstrate the changing environment, Bishop said, as the bands of tropical red soil merge into yellow dirt that demonstrates a more temperate climate.

Zancanella agreed that the area’s rock formations are important for climate change scientists.

“This is one of the few places in the world where you can get rocks that represent 40 million years of continuous sequence exposed in the same place,” he said.

That unique geology benefits both scientists and amateurs. Judy Elkins, whose father opened Prineville’s Elkins Gem Stones in 1958, said she doesn’t find much time for rock hunting anymore, but still has exciting moments.

“It’s a real thrill to find a leaf (fossil) – I was up there one time with some friends, and we pulled a piece of rock off and it opened up and there it was,” she said. “My friend says, ‘Oh, the last time this leaf was in the sunlight was 40 million years ago,’ and it kind of hit me right then how remarkable it was. That was kind of a moment of revelation for me, despite having been in this business since I was a small child.”

Two running unopposed for open spots on board

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 22. 2007 5:00AM PST

As the parents of current and former students in the Crook County School District, the unopposed candidates for two different school board positions say they want to focus on strengthening the curriculum and engaging students.

Steve Caraway, of Prineville, is running unopposed for a third four-year term on the board. Caraway, 54, represents Zone 1 on the board, which mainly covers the northwest corner of Prineville and Crook County.

In Zone 3, the southeast part of the city and county, Jeff Landaker is also running unopposed to fill out the last two years of Runinda McCormack’s term. McCormack, who was appointed to the board in 2005, decided to step down this year.

Landaker, 40, is currently the chairman of the school district’s facilities committee that is reviewing options for the district’s overcrowded school buildings.

Crook County, which currently has about 3,100 enrolled students, is facing challenges in the future as the area continues to grow in population.

The school board positions are unpaid. There are four zoned positions and one at-large.

Steve Caraway

Caraway described himself as a “Prineville boy.” He graduated from Crook County High School.

He now he works for Les Schwab Tire Centers. And he has two children who have gone through the Crook County school system and a daughter who is a senior at the high school.

He attended Ochoco Elementary School then moved to other areas of Oregon because of his father’s work, before returning to Prineville for his junior year of high school.

Although his youngest child is almost finished with secondary education, Caraway said his main priority in his next term on the school board would be making sure that students at the elementary level don’t “slip through the cracks.”

“I still think that the Number One goal for me is children, basically kindergarten through (grade) five,” he said. “It’s important that those kids, you start them early (and) build a solid foundation for them to be successful in middle school and high school.”

Caraway said that, after his first term on the school board, he decided not to run again in 2003. But he received enough write-in votes that he served another term.

He characterized his role on the school board as “a listener.”

“If I think that we’re headed in a wrong direction, I’ll discuss it with our superintendent and also with our board members, but I’m not really an outspoken type of individual,” he said. “I like to listen, take it in and then see what direction we need to go with it.”

Jeff Landaker

Landaker has lived in Crook County for about five years, but he has quickly become involved in many different aspects of the school system.

In addition to having a son and daughter who attend Cecil Sly Elementary School, he is the chairman of the school district’s facilities committee and an active member of the Cecil Sly Parent Teacher Organization. He is also involved with the Crook County Schools Foundation, which does fundraising for educational programs in the schools.

“I started getting involved five years ago, wanting to understand the school system (and) how it works when we moved to the community,” Landaker said. “With that, I started understanding how everything is connected in the community, the school system, the city government, the county government and in particular the businesses.”

Landaker, who lives in Post, a small town southeast of Prineville, said the two main challenges for the school district right now are putting more emphasis on curriculum standards and post-secondary education, as well as dealing with growth and development in the county.

“With the changes coming to our community, the lack of facilities as far as the 21st century, being able to provide an education to our kids that is at the level of the 21st century (is a challenge),” he said. “Our schools, a lot of them are outdated and they’re overcrowded.”

He added that the thinks the goal for the county should be to make its curriculum and graduation benchmarks more rigorous than the state’s requirements.

“I would like to see … at the minimum, all kids exceed the standards for what the state sets down,” he said. “I want to set a higher standard for our kids in Crook County, not just to meet but to exceed.”